At precisely three minutes past five o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, I had a brainwave.
I was alone in the house, with my wife still at work and our two currently resident sons at separate pubs with their mates, yelling themselves hoarse at massive TV screens showing the England v Germany match.
I’d switched on the telly in the kitchen, thinking that I ought to follow the game myself, since everybody was sure to be talking about it the following day.
But then the thought suddenly occurred to me: with most of the country glued to the box, wouldn’t this be the perfect moment to drive down to Sainsbury’s for the weekly groceries?
I’ve never understood how our sons became infected with football fever — for I’ve certainly never caught it myself. Fans are seen watching the match against Germany
Yes, I know, there must be something seriously wrong with me. I
As for son No 3, whose heart belongs to Liverpool FC, one of my most vivid memories of his childhood is of that awful first match of the 2004 Euros, when France scored two goals in injury time to overturn England’s 1-0 lead.
The boy was 12 years old at the time and he’d painted his face with a cross of St George to watch the match. When the final whistle blew, after Zinedine Zidane’s second goal, his red and white face-paint was streaming down his cheeks, dissolved in manly tears. I wish I’d had a camera handy. His grief was a vision to behold, poor chap.
As for the youngest — a Fulham fanatic, like son No 2, — he’s a walking encyclopaedia of football, who never ceases to amaze me with his knowledge.
I hope he’ll forgive me for saying that he was never much good at remembering, say, the dates of the Kings and Queens of England.
But he could tell you just about everything there is to know about every player competing in every team in the Euros — which clubs they have played for, the transfer fees they command, and their strengths and weaknesses on the field.
His passion for the game has stayed with him since at least as far back as his third birthday in 1996 — a day that was totally ruined for him when England were knocked out of the semi-final of the Euros by Germany, after Gareth Southgate missed that fateful penalty.
But I’ve never understood how our sons became infected with football fever — for I’ve certainly never caught it myself.
It’s true that I don’t suffer their terrible lows when a favourite club loses or a home team is knocked out of a big championship. But then again, nor do I experience their sheer ecstasy when their own side wins
All right, I remember being swept up in the general euphoria as a 12-year-old, on the day England beat Germany to win the World Cup. But I fear my joy owed more to my obsession with World War II than to any love of the game itself.
(Who of my generation can forget the great Vincent Mulchrone’s brilliant opening paragraph in this paper on the morning of that match: ‘If Germany beat us at our national game today, we can comfort ourselves with the fact that we’ve beaten them twice at theirs.’ I wonder if he’d get away with that today.)
So, yes, I know that many will think it sacrilege to write these words — in this of all weeks — but the truth is that I find football just a teeny bit boring. And most other sports, too, if I’m honest.
Indeed, this past fortnight has been purgatory for me, with two boys at home most evenings, screaming at the family TV with their candid advice to the referee and alternate howls of anguish and joy, depending on the run of the match.
Enough to say I’ve found it extremely hard to concentrate on the book I’ve been trying to read (Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, if you’re interested — a wonderfully moving feat of the author’s imagination, charting the life and tragically early death of Shakespeare’s only son).
Even on those rare occasions when we’re allowed a rest from the Euros, and spared from listening to Gary Lineker and Co blathering about them, we’ve had no respite from ball-games on TV. For with Wimbledon now eating up what remains of the schedules, and Mrs U a keen follower of tennis, there’s simply no escape.
Yes, of course it was nice to see Andy Murray beating Oscar Otte on Wednesday. Jolly brave of him to battle on with a tin hip, and all that. Well done him.
But how many others like me, with a blind spot for sport, found themselves wishing on Wednesday night that he’d just get on and finish it, instead of interminably delaying the 10 o’clock news?
Don’t ask me how my sons marked England’s victory. All I can report is that our youngest arrived home in the early hours of Wednesday morning — 25 years to the week since his third birthday was ruined by Southgate’s missed penalty (above)— distinctly unsteady on his feet and so hoarse from singing and shouting that he could barely speak
Mind you, the news itself offers precious little relief these days, since great chunks of the BBC’s bulletins are devoted to the tennis or football we’ve just had to endure.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sneering at people who love sport. On the contrary, I’ve always envied my sons their passion for football. It’s true that I don’t suffer their terrible lows when a favourite club loses or a home team is knocked out of a big championship. But then again, nor do I experience their sheer ecstasy when their own side wins.
Though I hasten to say that I’m quietly pleased when England does well, the team’s occasional victories don’t make me feel a bit inclined to yell my head off, down ten pints and dance in the high street until dawn. It must be a wonderful feeling.
Which brings me back to Tuesday evening, when I automatically switched on the telly for the England v Germany match — only to be struck by my brainwave.
After all, hadn’t my knowledgeable sons assured me that victory for Germany was a foregone conclusion? So why should I sit at home, watching my country being beaten in a game that didn’t much interest me anyway?
Minutes later, I was zipping along deserted roads to the Sainsbury’s superstore at the bottom of our local common. Just as I’d predicted, I had the whole place almost entirely to myself.
With the rest of the population glued to the TV at home, at work or in the pub, the aisles were empty and there were no queues at the checkout. The only living souls visible, apart from a couple of old ladies, were disgruntled members of the shop’s staff, who clearly wished they were elsewhere, like everyone else.
Never has the Utleys’ weekly shop gone more quickly or smoothly. Better still, I arrived back home just in time to see Raheem Sterling score England’s first, in the 75th minute, with Harry Kane’s follow-up coming 11 minutes later. As the final whistle blew, I poured myself a quiet glass of Scotch in celebration.
Don’t ask me how my sons marked England’s victory. All I can report is that our youngest arrived home in the early hours of Wednesday morning — 25 years to the week since his third birthday was ruined by Southgate’s missed penalty — distinctly unsteady on his feet and so hoarse from singing and shouting that he could barely speak.
As for his 29-year-old brother, he didn’t reappear until the afternoon, having passed the night I daren’t ask where.
Yes, I envy them their exultation. I just pray that it will last beyond the final whistle tomorrow. As for me, I think perhaps I’ll do a spot more shopping.